A Weak Entry To An Otherwise Successful Franchise
Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando
I'm a genuine fan of the Paranormal Activity series. There, I said it. The first film changed the approach to making horror movies with its simplicity and inventiveness, ushering in many lesser rip-offs and some worthy sequels. Of the now four films that total the series, I find myself favoring the odd-numbered ones over the evens. Paranormal Activity introduced us to Katie (Katie Featherston), her back-story, and the unseen monster known only as Toby. Paranormal Activity 3 remains the most brutal of the chapters, a prequel to the first two films that explains how everything started - a reveal that includes a cult of witches and demons, evil grandmas, and two very dead parents.
Paranormal Activity 4 brings us to the present, taking place five years after the events of the first two films and, as a result, is a direct sequel to Paranormal Activity 2. When we last saw Katie, she had murdered her boyfriend, her sister, and her brother-in-law, all in an effort to capture her sister's son, Hunter. As the firstborn son of Katie's lineage, he's important to the cult and to Toby, for reasons that Paranormal Activity 4, sadly, does not reveal. What it does is tell us what happened to Katie and Hunter after the events of the first two films, and it does so in a way many will not be suspecting. It also gives us the scares we're now accustomed to seeing while still using interesting techniques to achieve those moments - the second film introduced multiple cameras around the house, the third used the pivoting camera in the kitchen to great effect - this time using webcams and a Kinect that reveal figures in the background or one's that are otherwise invisible.
Where the film succeeds in technical creativity, it fails in story. There's nothing that makes us excited for what comes next, a strength that part three had going for it. It feels more like a sequel made only for commercial reasons, giving us the basic plot points we've come to expect, uninterested in adding the unexpected. Instead of adults, or little girls, we get Alex (Kathryn Newton), the (roughly) fourteen-year-old protagonist suspicious of the new guest in her parents home, Robbie (Brady Allen). As creepy kids go, he's up there with Samara and Damien, and to his credit I was especially frightened by his delivery of a certain foreboding line during the middle of the film, but he and Alex are two minor highlights of a bad movie.
The series seems as though it's headed down the path of asking more questions than it feels like answering, which is a shame for a group of films that could have a potential if the right story is generated. The first film could have stood by itself as a great horror film; it didn't need sequels. Paranormal Activity 3 brought some life into the storyline after the average Paranormal Activity 2, making the possibilities endless in the next chapter. Paranormal Activity 4 is a major disappointment and doesn't give me much hope for the inevitable sequel. I guess we'll find out next year.